Spectrum Summer Music
A story by Hear My Music
We delivered a week of daily music sessions for 20 children and young people who have autism. Participants attended their allocated group or individual slot for 5 consecutive days, culminating in an informal sharing session on the Friday of the week. Short recordings and films were also produced.
What Spectrum Summer Music did
We delivered daily music sessions for 20 participants who have autism for one week in the summer holiday. All sessions were delivered from our base in Cathcart Trinity Church. Participants who attend our Spectrum Music after school classes were all invited to attend the summer school, we had space for some new participants who were identified through a mixture of school partnerships, advertising and word of mouth.
Each day practitioners worked with participants to create and learn music, culminating in a sharing session on the Friday of the week. For some participants it was more appropriate to share film clips/sound recordings from throughout the week. Each group or individual were given the space to develop musically in the way that suited them best as individuals.
We had a young volunteer with additional support needs who is a previous participant of Hear My Music classes supporting the set-up and delivery throughout the week.
Practitioners were given time to plan and edit videos, in addition to direct delivery. Practitioners can often be isolated and the opportunity to work as part of a team for a full week enhanced delivery.
All families/carers of participants were invited to use a large communal space to have a cup of tea and meet other families/carers. The space was big enough for people to have quiet time to themselves if needed, or meet and talk with other families/carers.
This project addressed the better breaks priority complex needs. Our sessions are set up for people with autism but we are working with children and young people with the most complex of needs and don't require a diagnosis to be involved in our project. If a participant needs the individualised approach that we can provide then we will welcome them with open arms.
There were many successes throughout the week, notably one participant who doesn't attend school and finds interaction exceptionally difficult staying for the final sharing session.
What Hear My Music has learned
This was the first year we have been able to run our summer school over one week with multiple participants attending at the same time due to having more space in our new premises. Timetabling was more time consuming than it was previously due to this and in future planning we need to allocate more project management time towards this.
We reached our target group and numbers with no external advertising, this suggests to us that there is demand to run two weeks in the future if we have the staffing capacity. We wish to fill all spaces without having a large waiting list and achieved this, however, it was clear that if had advertised, more spaces could be filled.
How Hear My Music has benefitted from the funding
The summer week always involves working with other support organisations and through this we develop informal partnerships, notably referrals of new participants from other organisations. We target a wide geographical range and this means that the organisation gets known in different places. Having a big team of practitioners together to work in the same place for a full week is something that is not possible during term time and is invaluable for peer sharing and learning.
Participants will have attended a full week of summer school, engaging in a meaningful activity where their talents and abilities can be recognised and celebrated with their peers and families. This will develop friendships and mutual respect through a shared activity.
This outcome was completely achieved with notable peer relationships developing through the shared activity.
A participant who is new to Hear My Music was very anxious prior to his first session and brought a comfort toy along to the first session. He entered the room reluctantly and wouldn't let go of his comfort toy, restricting his movement in playing instruments. A short amount of time into his first session, he relaxed with the peer he was working with, started asking them questions and felt comfortable enough to let go of his toy and participate fully. By the final day he was confident performing with a microphone to his family and other families of group members. He initiated games with one peer in the group and we believe that this relationship will continue following the summer week.
Parents/carers of disabled children and young people will have met other carers and spent time with them while the project participants are engaged in a meaningful activity. They will develop friendships and a support network through meeting others, thereby building their support network.
It was clear through casual observation of interactions that parents/carers were meeting and chatting while the children/young people were engaged in the music session. We observed instances of parents exchanging phone numbers and also conversations that involved sharing of different support information. It was clear from our evaluation forms that parents in particular had found this network/space valuable and the sharing of information afforded through this was something that was seen to be very useful.
One parent of a participant who attends during term time but currently doesn't attend school usually is alone when her child is attending sessions. This family are particularly isolated and travel a long way to attend music sessions as the only thing that the child is currently engaging with. During the summer week both the participant and parent had to opportunity to mix with others as part of the week. One of the key factors of this was due to it being in the summer holidays, a big trigger for this participant is school uniforms so this project being outwith school time meant that they could mix. The parent in particular found mixing with other parents something that 'helped with our worry about the future and knowing that we are not alone in this.'
The sessions are set up to work with participants’ specific abilities and indeed to celebrate them. For participants who come across multiple challenges in everyday life, this can be a refreshing opportunity to celebrate success and abilities, leading to an improvement in wellbeing.
It was notable throughout the week that anxiety levels were reduced in participants, leading to improved wellbeing. The celebration of a sharing session at the end of the week meant that notable achievements were able to be presented to families. This left everyone with a feeling of pride and achievement and nobody was left out of this sharing as we had the option to represent participants through film/sound clips if they preferred.
Case study written by parent: My daughter is 7 and suffers from anxiety and especially separation anxiety. She is care experienced (adopted) and because of her early life experiences she does not have any inherent feeling that the world is a safe place, or sense of trust that adults can be relied upon to meet children's needs and keep them safe. I had been keen for some time to find an activity for my daughter to take part in over the summer, but at present she is only able to attend activities where I can go with her, and there aren't many of those for her age group. Lately she has been very engaged in different ways with music at home and so I was especially keen to find some sort of musical activity. A colleague put me in touch with Emily to discuss whether any of the Hear My Music summer groups might be suitable. My daughter was quite scared and reluctant about the idea, but at our introductory session with Emily she relaxed and engaged far more quickly than I could ever have anticipated. Between then and the group starting, she asked some questions and expressed some worries about attending but was also able to tell me that she was feeling excited too. The relaxed 1:1 introduction was invaluable for setting the tone and helping her understand what the group might be like. On the first day at the group, she said from the moment she woke up that she didn't want to attend. Later she was reluctant to get in the car, and then reluctant to get back out at the venue. On the way up the path she kept stopping dead and pulling back. She relaxed visibly when she saw Emily. I sat in on the first session, out of my daughter's eyeline. She only glanced over to me twice; usually she would be checking on where I am every few minutes when we're outside our home. Even when another child arrived and was roaming around the room vocalising, she remained largely relaxed and engaged with the music. Usually that sort of thing would have her running over to cling to or hide behind me, as has happened at the park a number of times when children have been running around and shouting. On the second day she went into the room without me, while I was filling in paperwork at the table outside, which was nothing short of amazing to me. When we tried Rainbows previously, it took literally months for her to be able to go in without me. That evening, for the first time in a long time, we had a calm bedtime with no significant distressed behaviour. Bedtimes are often quite tricky, especially when there has been something new or challenging during the day and she’s ‘held herself together’ for the whole time. This tells me she was genuinely feeling safe and calm at music group, and not just putting on a front and masking her emotions as she often does in new situations and in front of new adults. (Being smiley and compliant is a self-preservation technique she developed in early childhood, but it’s hard emotional work.) On the third day she told me from the moment she got up that she was excited about music group. Although she said once or twice that she was scared because there was going to be a new person, she didn't fixate on that but came out of that negative thinking spiral quite quickly and without me having to help. I was barely allowed to finish my lunch, she was so keen to get in the car. She was quiet in the car, which is unusual - usually she's in constant 'chatterbox mode' which helps her feel like she isn't being forgotten and has my attention. I asked was she quiet because something was wrong, or because she was feeling calm? She said she felt calm. This is something she generally only says when we're at home. We were 20 minutes early and she walked ahead of me up the path to the door. She kept repeating how excited she was and was absolutely bouncing with excitement before her session began. I genuinely don't think I've seen or heard her expressing unadulterated excitement in that way before, and certainly not for a long time. After the session when we were back home, she entertained herself with paints for 45 minutes while I sat beside her on the sofa doing household admin. Usually I can only do that sort of thing when she's asleep or watching TV, or when another adult is there. She craves attention from her trusted adults to keep her feeling safe, and usually would be constantly asking questions or trying to engage me in conversation while painting, but this time she was more absorbed and it kept her attention. Again I attribute this to the calm frame of mind she was in as an after-effect of music. I can't definitively say that any of this is a direct result of attending the music group. The fact we're three weeks into the school holidays, with the related reduction in school-related anxiety, has probably contributed too. However, the stability of her 'calm' mood and her expression of genuine excitement this week are things I have rarely experienced in the three years my daughter has been with me, and I don't think that can be attributed entirely to the absence of school.